The Jersey Shore Warriors is an example of what’s right in AAU basketball

2 Comments

GALLOWAY, N.J. — AAU basketball has a stigma.

Whether or not it’s deserved is a different argument for a different day, but the fact of the matter is that the prevailing school of thought is that AAU basketball and the grassroots, shoe company culture is what has ruined the American game.

Competitiveness and winning at all costs is sacrificed for exposure and individual success. Team play and the beauty of running an offense goes by the wayside as the ‘do him’ mentality takes over. Shot selection is a thing of the past. Fundamentals a distant memory.

That’s what the critics will tell you.

But at it’s heart, AAU basketball is a good thing. It’s a chance to earn a scholarship. It’s a chance to test yourself against the best players in the country, not just the best players in your city. Exposure certainly is anything but a negative.

Few teams break the mold of the AAU stereotype like the Jersey Shore Warriors.

Tony Sagona has been running the program for 35 years. Matt Carroll and Troy Murphy can both be counted as alums. Former Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney and incoming Notre Dame freshman Stephen Visturia are both products of the Warriors. Heading into Elevate Hoops’ Live in AC tournament, the Warriors had won their last three AAU tournaments as well.

They’re not part of the EYBL. They’re not sponsored by Adidas or Under Armour. But they send players to college. Some of those guys have made the NBA.

And most importantly, they do it all while winning basketball games.

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Sagona said of AAU basketball, “I just think you get so much talent on one court. Kids don’t want to buy into the unselfish. You stack a team with all all-americans. The sponsored teams are what creates the problem. They lose value when they play for sneakers and shirts. They forget what they’re there for.”

Sagona says the key top the success of his program is that they target a specific kind of player. “He knows how to play, has a good mentality,” he said. “We get a few athletes, very unselfish. We practice that way. The competitiveness, we drill it in.”

“With the reputation that we have, they come to us.”

Dominique Uhl is the perfect example. A 6-foot-8 German transplant, Uhl is an athletic forward with developing ball skills. He can hit a three and he can handle the ball pretty well for a guy his size, but he needs to add weight and strength to get more comfortable playing against stronger front court players at the next level. A three star recruit according to Rivals, Uhl’s recruitment is gaining momentum, as Maryland, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Temple and St. Joe’s have all offered him.

How did Uhl wind up with the Warriors on the AAU circuit?

“I tried out with the New Jersey Playaz before, but I didn’t like the style,” Uhl said. He fit in much better with the Warriors, who base their system around playing smart basketball: running an offense, spreading the floor, making the right pass.

For Sagona, it’s less being a coach than it is being a general manager, bringing in the right players and the right pieces without upsetting the team’s chemistry.

“They already know how to play,” he said. “We manage timeouts, substitute, yell at them a little bit.”

It’s working.

There are at least four Division I players on the roster, with Ivy League and Patriot League programs lining the sidelines every time the Warriors take the floor.

In general, AAU basketball’s reputation is much worse than the truth of its existence.

But even if you believe the worst, spending an hour watching the Warriors will change your perception.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

Nike
Leave a comment

A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Wink Public Relations
1 Comment

We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
3 Comments

Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter